Originally created 12/23/99

Used gifts get a new spin on online auction sites



Most of Dan Morrell's holiday shopping this year will be done at the mall. But he turned to an Internet auction site to find a one-of-a-kind gift for his brother.

"I bought him an old set of ... engineering books from the early 1900s," says Morrell, a camera shop manager from Macomb, Ill. "I thought he'd like to see what was current thinking back then."

It's difficult to know exactly how many shoppers will log on to online auctions this holiday season, but Morrell definitely won't be alone.

Amazon.com, which has an auction component on its Web site, and the auction site eBay were ranked first and second respectively in a list of the top 10 e-commerce traffic sites for the week ending Dec. 5, according to Media Metrix, a New York-based Internet consulting firm.

A quick perusal of the sites shows hundreds of items advertised as "great holiday gift" or "perfect for the holidays."

"I think holiday shopping at the auction sites is really big this year," says Jenny Griggs, a graduate student in Gainesville, Fla., who recently sold a childhood jewelry box, among other items, she offered online as a good gift idea. "A lot of my customers have asked me to please send an item before Christmas."

Brent Roman of Lilburn, Ga., says he searched everywhere for a 1959 issue of Boys' Life magazine that contained an article written by his then 13-year-old father. He even called the publisher -- without luck -- before finding the magazine on eBay for about $11.

"This has purely sentimental value," he says. "My dad had been given a small supply of that magazine, which got lost around 1980."

But not everything online qualifies as being in line for a proper gift, some shoppers say.

It seems a gift-giving etiquette of sorts has developed among some online auction participants.

"Buying used things to give to other people almost seems a little tacky," says Geoff Hazel, an information technology manager in Seattle. "It's not that much different from going to Goodwill or the Salvation Army."

Hazel says he won't consider buying a gift on eBay unless it is something special he might not be able to find in a store.

"If it's not of a collectible nature, it looks more like you were just being cheap instead of buying something new," Morrell said.

Ms. Griggs, who likes the convenience of e-commerce shopping, says giving used clothing as a holiday gift might be questionable. But she recently went to an online auction to buy several used CDs for a friend, a Korean calligraphy poster for her boyfriend and a Limp Bizkit poster for her 13-year-old brother -- all gifts she might have spent hours searching for at a crowded mall.

Holiday shopping probably won't provide the same boost to online auctioneers as it does to toy and book retailers, who historically do most of their annual business around Christmas, according to Matt Maddox of Kurt Salmon Associates, an Atlanta retail consulting firm.

But, unlike some other e-commerce sites, he expects they'll see little slowdown once the holiday season ends -- a point eBay spokesman Kevin Pursglove agrees with.

"We know that lots of people receive gifts they have absolutely zero use for," Pursglove says. "We anticipate as soon as the holiday season is over, a lot of those items are going to be listed online."